I can’t fathom, for the life of me, how men have such a hard time comprehending why raping an unconscious woman isn’t “sex” or consensual or why rape is such a destructive act of misogyny, but I thought I’d try to explain it here. In terms that might make it plainer for them.
My students always respond better to scenarios than a stream of decontextualized facts and statistics, so I’m going to create a scenario. Bear with me. My fiction writing isn’t as sharp as my nonfiction writing, but I believe my gift for metaphor transcends both genres.
So, imagine you’re leaving work one night. You drive by your homeboy’s apartment and think, I wonder what this nigga’s getting into tonight. It’s Friday; you have tomorrow off, and so does he. You text him: “What’s good?” He says drop by.
You hit a U-turn, go back to his building, park, walk up to his floor. He opens the door, and the music and conversation happening inside of the apartment spill out into the hallway. “We lit,” he tells you and holds a smoked-down blunt up to your lips. It’s obviously on.
You go inside. There are a few other dudes you know, but none of them as well as your boy. Y’all greet each other, and one of them hands you a beer. You thank him, and he introduces himself. You recognize him from a few night spots you frequent, and you tell him your name. “Nice to meet you,” he says.
Y’all start chopping–about Lebron, Trump, this, that, the other. Everybody’s in a good mood. It’s the weekend. A hour or so later, the beer is gone, but the vibe is still good. Dude that you just met offers to buy a few bottles for everybody because he just got a bonus check. You’re not sure what he does, but you don’t care; free liquor sounds amazing to you right now. “Ay, go with me,” Dude says. And you don’t mind if you do. That way, you get to influence what bottle he buys.
You jump in the car, and he starts playing the new Kendrick. Some of it is garbage, but some of it goes. You talk back-and-forth about music, then you pull up to the state store. He buys four bottles including the Jack you want. “That’s all you, nigga,” he says. You figure it’s because you just told him about your son’s mother–how she keeps playing on your phone. He sympathized with you because he has a son, too, and his own “crazy” baby-mama.
You’re heading back to your homeboy’s apartment. You tell Dude you wish you had your vaporizer because your homeboy’s weed is medicinal. It’s some of the best shit you’ve smoked in a really long time. “Let’s go by your crib, then,” he offers. “We can get your shit, and then we can go back.”
So you give him the directions. He takes you back to your apartment. While you change clothes and put your vaporizer in your bag, he gets a text from his brother or cousin or somebody. It’s blurry because you’re finally starting to feel those shots you took back at your homeboy’s.
“He’s trying to get up,” Dude says, “but he doesn’t want to drive all the way back out to So-and-so’s.” Fuck it, you tell Dude. Tell him to drop by here. You open up your Jack and start sipping. You break out the vaporizer and some shit that Dude has on him. Y’all smoke up.
You turn on the TV and start watching “Fear of the Living Dead” on demand. Dude’s phone buzzes. It’s his brother or cousin or whoever. He has another dude with him. They come in with beers. Y’all chop and watch the show. Shit is crazy. Y’all empty out the Jack and start on another bottle.
Your homeboy texts you: “Where you at?” You text him back: “I’m at the crib.” You need to piss and drop your phone on the way to the bathroom. You forget about it.
You keep drinking. Laughing while these niggas talk shit about the zombie apocalypse. You start feeling super sleepy and go lie down on the couch. You black out in slow patches.
Imagine waking up a few hours later. Surfacing. Your head is pounding, and your anus is on fire. You’re naked from the waist-down except for your socks. Your ass is damp, and, when you feel the cushion underneath you with your fingers and bring them back around to your face, you see blood.
You shoot up from the sofa, and you see Dude, sitting in your lounger, laughing and wiping the barrel of a gun clean with your discarded boxers. “I robbed you, bitch,” he says. “You tried to fight me, so I put this pistol up your ass. Calmed you right the-fuck down.”
He snatches a stack of bills from his pocket and fans them at you. You know where he got them; they were hidden inside the cover of your Bible.
“It’s stupid of you to keep money like this at the crib,” Dude says. “It’s stupid of you to drink all that shit with a bunch of niggas you don’t know. You a stupid nigga.”
You don’t even have the vocabulary to describe the things you are feeling or what those emotions are doing to your body. Your heart is flopping in your chest like a fish stranded outside of its bowl.
You want to lunge at Dude and do any- and everything you can to hurt him. You want to kill him. But he’s holding that gun on you. He’s laughing and taunting you.
“You like these bitches out here,” he says. “Getting fucked for a bottle.”
He says if you report him to the police, he’ll put the pictures he took on Facebook.
“You look like you’re enjoying that shit,” he says as he scrolls through the gallery in his phone. “You probably did. Enjoy that shit. Ugh, nigga. You’s a fag. I knew you was a fag.”
He starts laughing again and gets up from the lounger. He tosses your boxers at you, and he walks out of your apartment like nothing just happened.
He leaves you sitting in a dried puddle of blood, assed-out, in nothing but your tee shirt and socks.
Tell me now, all my cishet black male readers–
Would this be all right with you?
Would this be “nothing” to you?
Would you just “get over” this and move on?
Would you shrug this off as just another Friday night?
Would you feel like you deserved to be sodomized with a gun, robbed, and blackmailed simply because you let down your guard and hung out with a guy you didn’t know that well?
Or you drank too much and blacked out?
What would you do if this man that assaulted you actually went ahead and posted those pictures of you being sodomized on social media?
Would you call the police and tell them what he did to you? Would you tell your friends or family members?
Would you tell your woman?
I venture to guess that if someone violated your sense of self–your sense of sanctity, safety, privacy, personal agency, and masculinity–in this way, you would feel like you awakened in a whole new world as a whole new person.
And not someone that you want to be.
You’d feel ruined. You’d be destroyed.
Shame and rage and panic and regret would subsume you.
You might even kill yourself because it would be impossible to return to the man you were before you were assaulted.
You could never go back to a time before you were raped.
You could never forget what happened to you.
If you can comprehend the hellishness of living with this sort of victimization, then you can understand what a supreme violation of a woman’s humanity it is to rape her, especially while she’s unconscious.
You can also understand why Parker’s involvement in his victim’s rape cannot and should not be swept under the rug simply because he is famous or he made a “good” movie.
You can understand, too, that silence doesn’t equal consent.
Parker’s victim didn’t “deserve” to get raped because she went to a guy’s dorm room, drank too much, or passed out.
They didn’t get a “pass” because she wasn’t able to say no. They took one.
But if the scenario that I sketched out at the beginning of this post horrifies you, then you get that. You understand what they did was wrong.
You understand that rape is not sex, and women are not faking or exaggerating the degree of damage they experience when they are raped.
You understand that rape is a crime tantamount to murder in that it annihilates a person’s identity and replaces it with a pathology.
So this is what you should do. To show that you’re men and not lemmings or monsters.
You should stop defending rapists just because they are men.
You should have the integrity and decency that they lack.
You should hold them accountable for making a choice to rape, not treat them as if they fell into some “trap.”
The DSM-5 does not recognize the drive to rape as a symptom of any mental disorder.
Men rape out of things like anger, hatred, contempt, resentment, vengeance, and egotism. Controllable emotions.
So you can only excuse a man for “losing control” and raping a woman if you can excuse a man for “losing control” and committing a crime like the one illustrated in my scenario.
You can only make light of what Nate Parker’s victim suffered if you’d be willing to suffer that same fate yourself.
Her pain only stops mattering when human pain and suffering stop mattering.